Monday, March 30, 2009

Rethinking the American Dream

I recently read an article in the April 2009 issue of Vanity Fair entitled, “Rethinking the American Dream.” The title caught my eye as I find myself thinking a lot about the ruinous economic quagmire the United States is desperately trying to pull itself out of. Much of it has to do with a record number of mortgage defaults as a result of some very unscrupulous lending practices, easy credit, and an unregulated credit derivatives market. Aside from all of this, the article piqued my interest because I thought it might shed some light on the mythology underlying the American Dream of home ownership and why it continues to be so highly sought after even though it is increasingly out of reach for so many ordinary Americans.

I snooped around in the library catalog and sure enough my astute colleagues at the Austin Public Library have already added pertinent titles to the collection. I’ve listed a few below.

House lust: America's obsession with our homes

Home ownership: the American myth

The squandering of America: how the failure of our politics undermines our prosperity

Sex and real estate: why we love houses

The way we'll be: the Zogby report on the dramatic changes transforming the American dream

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Writers as artists

We all have our talents, but we have to stand in awe of those who are truly gifted in more than one area. A recent book I ran across highlights 200 authors who are also artists: The Writer’s Brush: Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture by Writers. The book provides intriguing biographical tidbits in addition to examples of the author's artwork. Below is a small selection of the authors mentioned with links to the titles owned by the library.

Federico Garcia Lorca – the pianist, poet, and playwright also sketched but only had one exhibit in Barcelona in 1929.

Thomas Hardy – was a draftsman for a leading architect early in his life and sketched illustrations for his fiction.

Hermann Hesse – the author has painted over 3,000 pictures, many of which are in the Hermann Hesse Museum in Switzerland. He's quoted as saying, "Not that I considered myself a painter or intended to be one. But painting is marvelous; it makes you happier and more patient. Afterwards you do not have black fingers as with writing, but blue and red ones."

Marianne Moore – the poet was a skilled artist who painted and drew from an early age and continued throughout her life.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009 at censorship

Some literary classics achieve canonization without a fight. Others must tie on the boxing gloves. The twentieth century owns an ignominious history of challenging, censoring, and banning some of its paramount literary creations. Ulysses was banned in the United States for over a decade before it found wide readership and literary acclaim. Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer met a similar fate. The book was banned for roughly thirty years before being exonerated and declared not to be obscene.

This day in 1957 a poem fell victim. United States Customs officials seized 520 copies of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl on the basis of the poem’s alleged obscenity. A year and half earlier, Ginsberg’s reading of the poem in San Francisco served as the seminal moment for the Beat Generation. The obscenity trial hit the courtroom in October 1957. The charges were summarily dropped as numerous participating scholars and critics attested to the literary merits of Howl.

Howl, and Other Poems

Howl on Trial: The Battle for Free Expression

American Scream: Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and the Making of the Beat Generation

Howl: Original Draft Facsimile, Transcript & Variant Versions, Fully Annotated by Author, with Contemporaneous Correspondence, Account of First Public Reading, Legal Skirmishes, Precursor Texts & Bibliography


Law Makers, Law Breakers, and Uncommon Trials

Tropic of Cancer

Monday, March 23, 2009

James Sallis, Noir Mystery Writer

James Sallis is a crime fiction writer who many mystery fans have never heard of. It's been said that he can convey as much information in one sentence as most authors convey in a paragraph. James Sallis's books include ten novels, multiple collections of short stories, poems and essays, three volumes of musicology, and a biography of Chester Himes, another mystery writer. His new mystery, Salt River, is a poignant and surprising conclusion to his John Turner trilogy. The philosophical mystery follows ex-cop, ex-con, and war veteran Turner as he goes in search of a truth he's not sure he can live with. Salt River is one of the new titles that has been added to our Good Reads' Best Recent Mysteries.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Our Guides to Happiness

Dozens of new books have been published in the last few years that claim to help us get, keep or understand happiness.

Daniel Nettle, a biological psychologist and author of Happiness: The Science Behind Your Smile, writes that humans are notoriously bad at knowing what will make them happy, so the happiness “scientists” keep writing books to guide us in this pursuit. In The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World, Eric Weiner comes to the conclusion that happiness isn't about economics or geography. Jennifer Michael Hecht states that the basic modern assumptions about how to be happy are nonsense in The Happiness Myth: Why What We Think Is Right Is Wrong. In Stumbling on Happiness, Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert draws on philosophy and neuroscience to discuss where we go wrong in our pursuit of happiness. And, in Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy, Eric Wilson questions the whole idea of striving for happiness.

Other more recent examples of books on happiness include:
The How of Happiness Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth
Happiness Is an Inside Job
Be Happy Without Being Perfect
Happy for No Reason
Happy at Last: the Thinking Person's Guide to Finding Joy
Reordered Love, Reordered Lives : Learning the Deep Meaning of Happiness

And for the most recent happiness news, several new studies conducted by Todd Kashdan, associate professor of psychology at George Mason University. say that we should just be grateful—it’s the best way to achieve happiness..

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

"My Morning Jacket" Likes the Library

The group My Morning Jacket's latest CD has the very tuneful song "Librarian". Not many songs have the word periodical in the lyrics, so I have copied and pasted the beginning of the song for library fans:

walk across the courtyard, towards the library. i can hear the insects buzz and the leaves 'neath my feet... ramble up the stairwell, into the hall of books... since we got the interweb these hardly get used. duck into the men's room... combing through my hair... when god gave us mirrors he had no idea... looking for a lesson in the periodicals... there i spy you listening to the AM radio...

Your Library does not have the new cd Evil Urges yet, but we have other titles by this band, which has been referred to as the American Radiohead.

Okonokos : Double Live Album
It Still Moves
At Dawn
The Tennessee Fire

Monday, March 16, 2009

American Chocolate Week

Did you know this week is American Chocolate Week? I didn't either. I don't know about you, but my favorite food is chocolate. In fact, I have been known to say "if eating chocolate is a sin, call me a sinner". I don't know if I'm addicted to it, but I do know that I try not to let a day go by without imbibing something chocolate. In fact, I'm drinking chocolate milk right now.

One of my favorite Library databases is the Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. I looked up chocolate; one point in the article stood out to me. Chocolate, apparently, has more than one hundred medicinal uses. "[A]nd the majority fall into three main categories: 1) to aid emaciated patients in gaining weight; 2) to stimulate the nervous systems of apathetic, exhausted, or feeble individuals; and 3) to improve digestion, stimulate the kidneys (diuretic), and improve bowel function." I, myself, use it to stimulate the exhausted nervous system all the time.

After checking out the database, I decided to wander around the cookbook section here at Central (the 640s for those of you who don't know). There are a lot of great looking books about chocolate. Check some of these out when you're at the Library, you will not be disappointed. In fact, if you make the Hot Fudge Pudding Cake in the Here in America's Test Kitchen cookbook from the editors of one of my favorite magazines, Cook's Illustrated, you will have so many friends that you'll have to make it on a regular basis. In fact, let me know when you make it so I can come over. (It's on page 318.)

Here's a nice list to get you started:
A Passion for Chocolate
Bake and Freeze Chocolate Desserts by Elinor Klivans
Death by Chocolate Cakes by Marcel Desaulniers
Chocolate from the Cake Mix Doctor by Anne Byrn (one of my favorite cookbook authors)
Chocolate Cake by Michele Urvater

A little bit of the back story:
The True History of Chocolate by Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe
The Chocolate Connoisseur by Chloe Doutre-Roussel
Chocolate A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light by Mort Rosenblum

And, just in case you think you shouldn't, Suzanne Somers says it's okay:
Somersize Chocolate 30 Delicious, Guilt-Free Recipes for the Carb-Conscious Chocolate Lover

Have a chocolate-y week! I know I will.

(photo from FreeFoto.)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

What's a Totoro?

The Howson Branch is hosting a "We ♥ Totoro" film series, but I really had no idea what Totoro was. I knew it had something to do with anime but that was all. Turns out Totoro is a lovable forest spirit that befriends two sisters in the 1988 Japanese release Tonari no Totoro (My Neighbor Totoro). While the film was a box office disappointment, Totoro dolls and other merchandise became hugely popular well in to the 2000s.

The movie’s animator, director, and writer Hayao Miyazaki infuses environmental themes as well as Japanese folklore and mythology into several of his hugely successful films. He is a well-respected artist who insisted on hand coloring frames long after most animators had turned to computers. His attention to detail and high standards led Miyazaki to found his own production company Studio Ghibli with fellow animator Isao Takahata. This gave him the freedom to create the quality films for which he is known.

Come by the Howson Branch to experience the Studio Ghibli movies on the big screen or check them out to watch at home. We also have the graphic novels!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Story Prize

What it lacks in history, it makes up for with rapidly growing prestige and financial might. Having only awarded its first winner in 2004, the Story Prize has quickly garnered a solid reputation in the literary world. The $20,000 prize—awarded annually to a short story collection—is the richest award in America for a single book. Other literary awards relish the pomp and circumstance of the awards ceremony. The Story Prize takes another—and refreshingly welcomed—approach. The finalists share the stage, reading stories, and discussing their work from sofas, and await the announcement. This intimate arrangement dovetails nicely with the unique experience of reading a short story. The 2008 winner was awarded March 4, 2009. The winner is Tobias Wolff’s Our Story Begins.

2008 winner
Our Story Begins (Tobias Wolff)

2008 finalists
Unaccustomed Earth (Jhumpa Lahiri)
Demons in the Spring (Joe Meno)

Past winners
2007: Like You’d Understand, Anyway (Jim Shepard)
2006: The Stories of Mary Gordon (Mary Gordon)
2005: The Hill Road (Patrick O’Keeffe)
2004: The Dew Breaker (Edwidge Danticat)

Monday, March 09, 2009

The Banking Crisis Explained

I recently learned a staggering fact. Typically, in terms of the U.S. economy, the ratio between what our Gross Domestic Product is calculated to be and the amount of consumer debt owed to creditors is an indicator of the overall health of our economy. The size of this ratio has steadily been creeping up over the past few decades. People are borrowing more and more money to pay for the things they want and need. Throughout most of the early Twentieth Century, this percentage was calculated to be 30% to 50% of GDP but in the years 2000 through 2008, this percentage sky-rocketed to 100% of GDP. This means that the total amount of revenue generated by the consumption of all goods and services originating from the United States, currently estimated to be $13 trillion, was equal to the total amount of money owed by ordinary people to creditors. The last time economists saw such parity was in 1929 just as the Great Depression began to unfold.

I became aware of this ominous development by listening to a recent broadcast of This American Life. The show is dedicated to painstakingly yet entertainingly explaining the current crisis afflicting our nation’s banks and our government’s efforts in trying to avoid reliving some of the darkest days of this country’s history.

I’ve listed a sprinkling of titles below owned by the Austin Public Library that deal with some of the topics introduced by this concise and illuminating radio production.

Here’s another jarring fact. This is listed as Obstacle #1 in the February 2009 issue of, “Martin Weiss’ Safe Money Report":

“America’s massive accumulation of debts now totals $294 trillion. That’s 420 times larger than the $700 billion TARP bailout program and nearly 300 times bigger that the largest estimates of the Obama rescue package.”


Friday, March 06, 2009

New Australian Fiction

Most readers in the US know very few Australian writers, but there are lots worth searching out. Peter Carey is probably the most well-known. I really enjoy reading Carey because both the language and plot in his books are amazing. I have recommended Peter Temple’s mystery The Broken Shore to friends, and they have all liked it.

Peter Carey
His Illegal Self
A mother-son relationship is set against the protest movements of the 1960s and 1970s and offers a realistic portrait of the era. Don’t you want to know what Australian hippies in the Australian Outback were like?

Theft: a Love Story
Michael "Butcher" Boone is an ex-“really famous" painter, now reduced to living in a remote country house and acting as caretaker for his younger brother, Hugh, who, like Butcher, has a primarily pugilistic relationship with the world. It’s a book about a close sibling relationship and the international art world.

Peter Temple
The Broken Shore
In Temple's beautifully written eighth crime novel, Joe Cashin, a city homicide cop recovering from an injury, returns to the quiet coastal area of South Australia where he grew up. There he investigates the beating death of an elderly millionaire.

Steve Tolz
Fraction of the Whole
Humorous story reflects on the travels of a father and son from the Australian bush to the cafes of bohemian Paris, from the Thai jungle to strip clubs, asylums, labyrinths, and criminal lairs, and from the highs of first love to the lows of failed ambition.

Tim Winton

Latest book by Australia's favorite author, an extraordinary evocation of an adolescence spent resisting complacency, testing one’s limits against nature, finding like-minded souls, and discovering just how far one breath will take you. Winton is a surfer and a naturalist, and his descriptions of surfing seem almost mystical.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore”

When I read on the Internet the day after the Oscars that Heath Ledger had won the award for Best Supporting Actor I noticed that each article I read said that Ledger was the second person in Oscar history to win an award posthumously. My librarian brain immediately thought, “Hmmm, well then who was the first?” The answer was far less easy to find than I anticipated and conflicting information was presented to me by Google. I ended up consulting the Encyclopedia Britannica database we subscribe to and found my answer in one of their Spotlight sections (comprehensive guides to several different subjects, including photos, media, and much more) that focuses on the Oscars and includes all present and past winners, Oscar history, and more. Turns out Sydney Howard was the first person to win an Oscar posthumously for the screenplay of Gone With the Wind (1939) and Peter Finch was the first performer to win an Oscar posthumously for the movie Network (1976) making Ledger the second performer to win posthumously (not the 2nd person ever as claimed by many a website).

I was personally rooting for Ledger to win the Oscar and when I found out that Finch was one of the other posthumous winners, I was floored. In fact, just the night before I had watched Network for the first time. I knew nothing about the movie other than my boyfriend once saw the first half of it and thought we might enjoy it. The movie stars Robert Duvall, Peter Finch, and Faye Duanaway and it completely blew me away. The plot and characters were well developed, Peter Finch gave a superb performance, and it included one of the most arresting and emotional scenes I’ve ever seen in a movie (the title of this blog post is a quote from that scene). Not only that, but the movie also provided a biting commentary on the state of television and television news and the power TV has over American life. The themes in this movie have led me on a whole other pursuit exploring books with similar themes: television’s influence over America, the changes in television news programs intended to garner ratings, the corporate takeover of television, etc. Of course, the Austin Public Library has the books you and I need for this educational pursuit and practically any other:

Encyclopedia Britannica Database
(requires an Austin Public Library card)
To get to the Oscar spotlight mentioned above, log in with your library card number, scroll down toward the bottom of the page where it says "Featured Spotlight" and click on "Spotlight Archive". Choose "All About Oscar" from the list.

Network (DVD)

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News

Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media

How to Watch TV News

Reality Show: Inside the Last Great Television News War

Viewer Discretion Advised:Taking Control of Mass Media Influences

Monday, March 02, 2009

Happy Birthday, Theodore Geisel

If he were still alive, Theodore Geisel would be 105 today. Theodore Geisel, of course, being Dr. Seuss.

When I was a kid, I got on this “famous autograph” kick and one of my prized autographs was Mr. Geisels'. It is a piece of paper with a picture of the Cat in the Hat, a personal note and Dr. Seuss' signature, all in blue crayon. It is one of my most cherished items. I don’t know if it’s real or not, heck, anyone could have written it, but I like to think the man himself did.

In our house today, Dr. Seuss is very popular. One of our current favorites is Hop on Pop, lots of great rhyming words and cute pictures. We also enjoy the perennial favorite, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. What is your favorite Dr. Seuss book?

One thing I recently discovered about Dr. Seuss is that he also wrote books under the name Theo. LeSieg. LeSieg is Geisel spelled backwards. He wrote these books and others illustrated them. Did you know that? Something else I learned is that Dr. Seuss was not a doctor. He went to Oxford intent on earning a PhD in literature. However, his future wife and Oxford student, Helen Palmer and his tutor, Dr. A. J. Carlyle both agreed that he was not suited to become a professor, but should fetter out his life as an illustrator and writer.

We’re glad he did. Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss!

A few books about Dr. Seuss and his life:

The Boy on Fairfield Street: How Ted Geisel grew up to become Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss: American Icon

Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel: a biography

You can also search the catalog for all of his books!

(photo from the Life Photo Archive. Facts from Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel: a biography.)